Becherovka: Czeching in on an Old Boozy Flame

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After about a 14-year hiatus, I ran into my old pal Jan Becher at a liquor store last week. When I say "Jan Becher" (pronounced "Yon Becker"), I really mean the herbal liquor Becherovka, named for its founder Jan Becher. And when I say "ran into" I really mean special-ordered through The Wine Chap in Belle Meade.

JB and I were tight back in the day when I was subsisting on about 6,000 Czech crowns ($200) a month, eating mostly dumplings and weird liquid-filled chocolates and diluting my beer-only diet with an occasional shot of Becherovka.

Admittedly, I usually consumed Becherovka when I was pretty well liquored-up and the trams and subways weren't running anymore so I'd decided to shoot the moon and stay out all night. But I seem to remember liking the stuff. We drank it straight or mixed it with tonic to create a "Béton." My Czech friends enabled the imbibing by swearing the cocktail "aided digestion." (While ostensibly a melding of "Becherovka" and "tonic," the name had layered meaning, since béton means "concrete" in French and the drink invariably hit me like a ton of bricks.)

When I ran into my old pal last week, my heart pitter-pattered with nostalgia for those cool late nights of Prague spring and flirting with Jan Becher on the banks of the Vltava.

But in the harsh sober light of day, I gotta say Jan Becher didn't look so good. And when I say Jan Becher didn't look so good, what I really mean is Becherovka is one nasty-ass drink.

It's flavored with cloves, which sounds all nice and gingerbready, but you know what else is flavored with cloves? That painkiller they use to numb your gums after you've been worked on by the Marathon Man's dentist.

I poured a stiff shot of Becherovka, hoping for an olfactory-chauffeured trip down memory lane, but all I got was a déjà vu of getting dry sockets after I had my wisdom teeth extracted.

How I could have been so beer-goggled as to consider Becherovka a "refreshing digestif," as I remember someone describing it in broken English, was beyond me. But then I remembered that I never actually bought it for myself; some boozy benefactor always came along and ordered a round for the table. Which means that whenever I was drinking Becherovka, it was free, and everyone knows that free booze tastes best.

Speaking of free booze, I've got about $30 worth of clove liquor from Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic that I'm looking to get rid of. Any takers? I hear it aids digestion.

Na zdraví!

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